Hard work and a commitment to lifelong learning propels sports advisor and MTSU doctoral student Michael Lawson
by Drew Ruble
Michael Lawson, 36, isn’t your typical MTSU student. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Lawson to have to step out of a class briefly to take a phone call from the National Football League Players’ Association, or from the head of sports marketing at Anheuser-Busch, or from one of the men he works for, who include (arguably) the best offensive and the best defensive players in all of professional football—Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Troy Polamalu.
A soon-to-graduate Ph.D. student in the Health and Human Performance program at MTSU, Lawson is a Nashville-based professional sports management advisor who has already achieved, career-wise, what other students in his classes dream of one day doing. Anyone who has seen Polamalu’s and Johnson’s hugely successful television commercials are familiar with Lawson’s work. A nationally recognized branding and marketing expert, Lawson has also consulted for some of the largest and most successful companies in the world. They include O’Reilly Auto Parts, global soccer conglomerate FIFA, and the aforementioned Anheuser-Busch, to name a few. (Lawson does not negotiate player contracts; he directly manages the marketing, endorsement, and public relations strategies for professional athletes. He does, however, negotiate professional and collegiate coaching contracts.)
Lawson’s professional success has him traveling more than 200 nights a year. He granted MTSU Magazine an interview the morning after he attended the 2013 Super Bowl. It’s not unusual for Lawson to work 80 hours a week. And yet the father of four has somehow found a way to take 12 hours of MTSU doctoral level coursework each semester—requiring a study time commitment of about 25 hours a week.
Why does he do it? One conversation with him makes it clear that Lawson is a lifelong learner who firmly believes in the power of continuing education. He also has his eye on obtaining the academic credentials required to one day work in a university setting like MTSU, where he can share the benefit of his business experience with younger people vying to be entrepreneurs like himself. MTSU’s doctoral program offers exactly what Lawson needs to make that dream a reality.
“Yes, it can be hard to come back from, for instance, New Orleans and to go straight to an advanced data analysis class from six to nine o’clock on a Tuesday night,” Lawson admits. “But that’s the process I signed up for. That’s what I need to do to accomplish what I ultimately want to accomplish. Because any innovation or advancements that can help you understand what is happening in your profession are good. You continually apply it. It has to be about continuing education because that makes you better.”
Clearly, getting better is something Lawson excels at. Consider his career path. Originally from Elkhart, Ind., and a defensive back on the Indiana State University football team, Lawson for a time harbored dreams of playing in the NFL. Instead, with a degree from the sports management program at ISU in hand, Lawson set his sights on becoming an athletic director at a major college. His first job out of college was working at West Point in marketing as a writer for their public affairs office in athletics.
It was at West Point that Lawson met the high-profile athletic director for the Louisville Cardinals, Tom Jurich. Lawson was soon hired to run the Kentucky university’s athletic marketing and put together their sponsorship program. The timing was perfect. Basketball coach Rick Pitino had just been hired to coach the basketball squad. Louisville football was on the upswing nationally and was soon to become a top-10 program. Lawson helped modernize the way the university was selling sponsorships by packaging media elements like radio rights with signage and events and promotions. With Lawson’s help, the university quadrupled revenues from sponsorships. He established a solid reputation in his field.
Lawson parlayed that experience into a position with Nelligan Sports, an aggregator of college properties that specializes in bundling radio, TV, and promotional rights of multiple college athletics programs in order to sell sponsorships to corporate entities like Chevrolet—as opposed to more traditional approaches like selling to individual truck dealerships. When Nelligan would ink a deal with a Ball State or Marquette for its services, Lawson would relocate to the university, assemble a team, and negotiate deals to increase marketing value. Nelligan eventually signed MTSU, the alma mater of Lawson’s in-laws. So Lawson and his family moved to Nashville.
At Nelligan, Lawson got a call from Jonathan Blue, an old friend and a booster from his days with the Louisville Cardinals. Blue, an entrepreneur and private equity specialist, was busy acquiring and tying together various sports businesses— from SFX’s tennis practice, which represented six of the top- 10 women players in the country to pro football super-agent Joel Segal’s practice, which included clients Michael Vick and Chris Johnson. Blue needed someone to put a public relations and marketing front together and to negotiate his largest endorsements. He wanted Lawson.
Lawson spent the next several years with Blue, building a particularly special bond with Titans running back Chris Johnson. While on a Nike photo shoot in Oregon, that relationship drew the attention of Steelers star Polamalu, who soon left one of the largest marketing and public relations agencies in the world to have Lawson represent him. When Blue decided to cash out of the entertainment area, Lawson continued for a short time working for the buyer, Europe’s massive Lagardere Unlimited agency.
After seeing Lagardere through a transitional period, Lawson had the professional equivalent of a Jerry Maguire moment. (Remember the moment in that famous movie about a sports advisor when the character portrayed by Tom Cruise issues the famous line, “Who’s coming with me?” and hangs his own shingle?) Lawson opened his own independent, Nashvillebased sports management practice, 4A Management (an allusion to his four children, whose names all start with A ), with a roster of clients that included Johnson, Polamalu, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ receiver Vincent Jackson, and Vanderbilt University baseball coach Tim Corbin, to name a few.
Lawson’s reputation is built on aligning his athletes with brands that well reflect the image they wish to convey. That’s why you won’t see Polamalu representing any junk food brands. Instead, he opts for lending his image to brands such as Head & Shoulders. Most recently, Polamalu agreed to become chief spokesperson for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
Lawson’s careful handling of his clients is reciprocated with unwavering commitment from them. Take for instance a Super Bowl–week interview with Chris Johnson on national television, during which Johnson was asked to name the eight people he would take for a ride in program sponsor Hyundai’s new eight-passenger vehicle. Johnson named Lawson among the family members he would take.
Lawson’s goals are to continue his successful sports practice, but also to use his Ph.D. to become a working professor. “What I am really passionate about is that ability to influence and work with students in a campus environment on a day-today basis . . . to help provide value back that maybe benefits that next wave of people.”
Lawson credits MTSU sports management program director Colby Jubenville with inspiring and pushing him to pursue the Ph.D. Jubenville, meanwhile, credits the University’s commitment to the region for attracting stars like Lawson to campus.
“Those who think MTSU isn’t serious about connecting with industry or serving the needs of the marketplace should take note of these kinds of relationships on our campus,” Jubenville says. “Look no further than Michael Lawson’s presence on campus to see that the University is in tune as an educational partner for this region and the nation . . . that we know what is good for the student, the University, the state of Tennessee, and our economy.”
A not quite A-to-Z look at former Blue Raiders playing their trade in professional baseball this spring
by Drew Ruble
Among the many wonderful signs of spring at MTSU is the distinctive “ping” of aluminum bats hitting baseballs at Reese Smith Jr. Field.
The MTSU baseball club is once again highly competitive in the Sun Belt Conference this year and no doubt has several players on the roster who will get a chance to play professionally in the years ahead.
Many of their Blue Raider baseball predecessors are already earning a living playing pro ball, either on the “senior circuit”—Major League Baseball—or in the minor leagues, where they continue to chase their dreams of winding up in the “big show.”
Here’s a quick photo gallery of former Blue Raiders and their current status on the professional ladder as baseball season kicks in to full gear.
Counting the many upsides of MTSU’s recent leap to C-USA
by Drew Ruble
MTSU’s recent invitation to join Conference USA for intercollegiate athletics, beginning July 1, 2013, clearly elevates the standing, competitiveness, and stature of the University’s athletics program. C-USA teams and athletes have made nearly 700 NCAA championship appearances since the league’s inception in 1995.
“We have been a proud member of the Sun Belt Conference and we appreciate our years as a member of the league,” said president Sidney A. McPhee.
“However, this change is a natural step in the evolution of our athletics program.”
Here is a top-10 list of reasons why MTSU’s jump to C-USA was a good one: A bigger piece of the pie: C-USA members enjoy significant national and regional television exposure and revenue sharing through partnerships with CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and ESPN.
Brand expansion: Beyond TV visibility, the conference’s expanded geographic footprint and already established brand enhances MTSU’s chances of becoming a household name.
Student-centeredness: The move provides MTSU student-athletes with bigger stages, bigger challenges, and bigger opportunities and also gives MTSU more identifiable opponents, rich in athletic tradition.
Reaching goals: Joining a more established conference matches a primary thrust of MTSU’s current $80 million fundraising campaign—to gain national recognition for the prowess of its athletes and the quality of its sports programs.
Survival of the fittest: In the rapidly reshuffling collegiate athletics landscape, which could one day lead to “super-conferences” that determine athletic championships, schools like MTSU must act aggressively to realign or risk being left behind.
Validation: The C-USA invitation validates the hard work and progress MTSU has made over the past decade both athletically and academically.
Conferences look at a lot more than just athletics when choosing new partner institutions, and for MTSU to be joining a conference that includes Rice University—a top academic institution nationally—is a signal of quality.
Student recruitment: The move greatly increases MTSU’s ability to recruit better athletes on the promise of established bowl game tie-ins, bigger venues in which to play, and a higher level of competition.
Perfect match: MTSU adds value to Conference USA, specifically through exposure in the Nashville TV market at a time when the conference has recently lost markets in Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Dallas, and Orlando.
More support: The added prestige, visibility, and increased fan interest makes MTSU more attractive for corporate sponsorship. The move should also motivate more giving from boosters, who have wanted something like this to happen for a long time.
Some Blue Raider supporters who haven’t yet given monetarily may be inspired to get off the sidelines.
New rivalries: Consider that just a few years ago, there was no rivalry between MTSU and Troy. C-USA members such as the University of Alabama–Birmingham (UAB), Marshall, and Charlotte seem to be natural regional foes.
The story of MTSU’s competitive bass fishing squad keeps getting bigger and bigger
by Drew Ruble
Few Blue Raiders are aware that among MTSU’s myriad club sports is a bass fishing team that competes regionally against programs like Kentucky and Florida. Currently led by fifth-year senior Nolen Spencer (pictured), the team recently beat out more than 40 other squads (including the University of Kentucky) for first place in a Collegiate Bass Fishing Trail tournament on Chickamauga Lake. Spencer and partner Jonathan Reese caught a five-bass limit weighing 19.02 pounds at the November event, winning $1,000.
Spencer helped launch the team in 2008 along with graduates Tyler Barnes, Reid Harrington, Josh Morton, and D. J. Boggs. The team mainly survives on sponsorship dollars from supporters like Smyrna Ready Mix (Mike Hollingshead) and Mean Mouth Lure Company (Tim and Cinnamon Turrentine).
More than 200 collegiate bass fishing teams exist nationwide—a clear reflection of how fast the sport is growing. Modern bass fishing has evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry with more recreational participants than golf and tennis combined. The sport is becoming so popular on campuses that many high school students take bass fishing programs into consideration when making their college choices. Across Tennessee, college-based programs are ramping up to meet that demand. Bethel University offers scholarship money to college anglers, and Tennessee Tech boasts more than a dozen university-owned boats. (MTSU anglers, by comparison, use their own boats to compete.)
Spencer, who aims to find employment in the outdoors industry after graduation, hopes the future is bright for the club he helped found.
Dr. Mark Anshel works to keep performance anxiety off the field and out of mind
by Amanda Haggard
The smallest man in pads—the field goal kicker—trots out to the 30-yard line. Though only seconds remain in the game, his uniform is spotless. Setting up next to the squatting holder, he takes four measured steps backward followed by three equal steps to the side. Now aligned for the perfect kick, he glances briefly up through the goal posts before bringing his gaze back down to the squatter’s position.
“I can do this,” he tells himself.
As the ball is snapped, he strides forward, locking his back foot before following through with his kicking foot—a fluid two-second motion that sends the ball soaring high into the air and eventually between the goal posts. Three precious points are added to the scoreboard as the crowd cheers. And the kicker’s larger, dirtier teammates begin to pat their comrade on the back as he jogs back to the sidelines.
And if that field goal kicker is truly prepared, according to Dr. Mark Anshel, a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at MTSU, all of this has already happened in the player’s head several times with positive outcomes before the game has even started.
“There’s one person who’s totally responsible for success or failure on that performance trial,” Anshel says. “And all eyes are on him. The pressure is insurmountable. His goal is to maintain attentional focus on what’s relevant in the situation, that is, a clean kick, ignoring all extraneous noise and interfering stimuli and to be able to deal with any distractions.”
Anshel teaches courses in sport and exercise psychology, research methods, experimental design and motor behavior. He’s the author of Sports Psychology: From Theory to Practice, now in its fifth edition. Much of his work was spurred by a lack of available knowledge on how an athlete can best cope with stress, which caused him to create literature in an applied area and use research as the basis of application.
Given the rabid nature of collegiate fan bases, there’s usually a lot riding on the leg of the football team’s placekicker. It’s not uncommon for oversized men to fight and scrap and tear each other to pieces for 59 minutes and 59 seconds only to have the diminutive kicker on the squad determine the game’s outcome.
What’s running through a kicker’s mind in such an instance? Is it different for the kicker than for the rest of us in terms of thoughts and emotions?
As MTSU’s resident expert on the psychology of motor performance under great anxiety or stress, Dr. Anshel is well qualified to explain the psychology of one of the most stressful sports moments—the field goal kick.
Getting Your Head Straight
According to Anshel, 70 percent of child athletes in the United States drop out of sports while in school. One primary reason, he says, is their self-perception of “low ability” in competitive athletics.
Where does the negative self-view come from? Anshel says it often comes from negative feedback from coaches, parents, opponents—even teammates—which feeds self-doubt and eventually leads players to drop out, which may only add to the obesity problem in the United States.
“We don’t want our kids dropping out of sport,” Anshel says. “They end up leading inactive lifestyles, put on a lot of weight, and stay sedentary.”
For college and pro athletes, low-ability perceptions are the ultimate recipe for failure. “When an athlete makes a low-ability explanation for their poor performance, they are on their way out,”
Anshel says. And that’s especially true for field goal kickers, who often dictate success or failure for their teams.
Given that burden, most collegiate and professional kickers have certain personality characteristics that allow them to handle their tough job: confidence, the anticipation of success, and a strong belief in mental and physical preparation.
“Their personality traits are based on stability and consistency,” Anshel says. “More than anything else, they are able to manage their emotions very effectively, overcome barriers of booing [for instance], and concentrate solely on the act.” In their mental imagery, there is “always a successful outcome.” Anshel says they “view the kick as a challenge, do not feel threatened by it, and have no self-doubt about their ability to get it through the uprights.”
According to Anshel, even when they fail and miss a kick, the successful kickers he knows are adept at quickly downplaying the negative event in their minds and getting back to positive thinking. When they miss, they “tend not to view themselves as poor players—[instead it] could be bad luck, wind, a poor hold, an awkward hit of the ball. But they park it in that corner called ‘what can I learn from this’ and move on. They’re very good at being able to move on from the lack of success.”
Experience counts, too. Anshel says kickers must also keep a store of memories of positive achievement from which they can recall previous instances of success. He adds that child athletes often have issues coping with stress in sports because they’ve had little or no previous success from which to generate positive images.
“These better athletes at MTSU or even these elite-level athletes have all these positive performances from their history to retrieve and recall and remember and execute mentally,” Anshel says. In addition to expecting success, accessing memories of success, and dismissing past failure as anomaly, kickers also develop a set of mental routines focused on a proper set of procedures to perform in the actual game. They mentally prepare for big moments.
Taking the Game Home
Do such characteristics translate into success in life? Anshel thinks so. While mental preparation is especially vital to tasks like field goal kicking, Anshel says groundwork in building confidence is the key to increasing a sense of purpose and arousal while managing anxiety in any sport—and even in everyday activity.
“Anxiety is a killer of sport performance,” Anshel says. “Anxiety is about threat and worry, and when you’re feeling threatened or worried about ‘what if,’ your muscles tighten up. And when your muscles tighten up, they stop being coordinated.”
Anshel says these coping skills can be transferred to many areas of life—he works with the Murfreesboro Police Department and emergency dispatch in order to teach them the same kind of anxiety management that a field goal kicker would use to perform a game-winning goal.
“You’ve got to manage your anxiety and build confidence,” Anshel says.
That sounds like good advice for anyone
Collegiate wrestling makes a quiet, coeducational return to MTSU
by Bill Lewis
Freshman Jasmine Cothran is proud that she made MTSU sports history this year. Her only disappointment is that no one seems to have noticed.
“Even up until this day, people don’t believe me,” says Cothran, the first female MTSU athlete to win a collegiate wrestling match. “A lot of people say they didn’t know that girls wrestle.”
She doesn’t take their skepticism personally. Most of the doubters are unaware that the University even has a successful wrestling team, much less that it includes four women. Perhaps that lack of awareness is understandable, since the team doesn’t use University facilities and has never held a match on campus. When Cothran scored her historic victory, it was at a match held in a rented high school gymnasium in another city.
Adding to that confusion, volunteer wrestling coach Bryan Knepper is not a University employee, and the team is not governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), as are the football, baseball, basketball, and other sports teams that are part of MTSU athletics. Instead, the wrestling team is recognized as a sports club and competes with similar student clubs from other schools.
After an absence of more than three decades, wrestling’s quiet return to MTSU has been, if not a secret, at least cloaked in anonymity and more than a little irony. The sport was cut from the Athletic Department in 1980 amid concerns about budgets and the effect of Title IX, the federal law that requires parity between men’s and women’s athletic opportunities and scholarships.
Now that law, intended to prevent discrimination against women, could be standing in the way of a return to NCAA status of a wrestling team that for the first time includes women.
For every scholarship or opportunity to participate in sports reserved for male athletes, Title IX requires similar opportunities for female. The idea is to create chances for women to participate, not to restrict opportunities for men. But with 85 men’s football team members and no budget to create that many offsetting women’s positions on sports teams, the University found itself playing a numbers game. Certain exclusively men’s sports—think wrestling—were eliminated.
The numbers still stand in the way of wrestling’s return to NCAA status. The team has four female members, but it also had 22 men on its roster last season. That means returning the sport to NCAA status could require the creation of at least 18 positions for women on sports teams.
Knepper, a one-time collegiate wrestler with a passion for the sport, is content to stay below the radar.
“I want to make it clear that our intent is not to return to NCAA status. Our fear is that people start talking about that, and the school eliminates us altogether,” Knepper says.
“In order to return to NCAA status, one of two things would need to occur,” he continues. “Title IX would have to be revoked by Congress or revised to reflect current collegiate trends, or MTSU would have to revive the NCAA [wrestling] program, which would require an additional two or three women’s sports at approximately $150,000 [per] year cost for each team.”
As a club supported by the private MTSU Wrestling Scholarship Foundation, the team is able to provide scholarships to certain members. Ten of the men have scholarships, which Knepper describes as “partial books to a full ride.”
Pat Simpson, a star MTSU wrestler who graduated in 1979, recalls the atmosphere on campus as Coach Gordon Connell struggled to shield the team from being eliminated.
“He was just starting to build the program,” Simpson says. “Title IX was starting to take effect.”
He applauds Knepper and his assistants for returning the sport to MTSU and creating opportunities for both men and women to pursue their dreams.
“Look at the roster. These are Tennessee kids. Middle is giving kids an option to wrestle,” says Simpson, who has been the wrestling coach at Nashville’s Father Ryan High School for 32 years.
There are no girls on the Father Ryan team, but Simpson sees growing interest. Jasmine Cothran wrestled in middle school and high school in Nashville before Knepper recruited her.
After her arrival, she used her Facebook page to recruit the team’s three other female members: Danah Tatum, Keyonna Jones and Kellsey Smith.
Cothran was unaware of the (to her) ancient history of wrestling at MTSU. Instead, she’s focusing on next season. Disappointed in her fourth-place finish this year, she’s training as much as possible while pursuing her studies and working a part-time job.
“That’s not good enough for me,” Cothran says of not being number one. “I hate getting beat. That’s the one thing that bothers me, somebody being better than me. I’ve always been a competitive person.”
The same can be said of Knepper and all the athletes who have, for the love of the sport, established a new wrestling tradition at MTSU.
A coaching legend’s role in making MTSU a color-blind campus
by Bill Lewis
MTSU’s track and soccer stadium is named for Coach Dean Hayes, but the greatest monument to his accomplishments is not a structure; it’s the diversity of the students who come to the University.
When Hayes first stepped onto the campus in 1965, almost all of the 5,500 students enrolled were white. Olivia Woods, the University’s first black student, had graduated. A few African American athletes played sports, but no African American scholarship athlete was competing on a varsity team.
The campus offered no black fraternities or social organizations. A plaque honoring the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, still stood on campus.
As he took on the task of recruiting the best athletes possible, Hayes unconsciously took on another role—as an agent of social change who participated in breaking the color barrier.
“When I got down here [from Chicago], they were still fighting the Civil War,” Hayes recalled during a 2003 interview for the MTSU Oral History Collection, archived at the Gore Center. “I blundered through it,” he said of the process of integrating his teams. “It wasn’t much of an issue for me.”
Forty-six years later, the campus looks like America. More than 15 percent of students at MTSU are African American. Others are Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, or members of other minority or ethnic groups. It all started with a phone call Hayes made soon after being hired as MTSU’s track coach.
“The very first guy I recruited was a black guy. It cost me 35 cents for a phone call,” he recently recalled.
The young man who answered the phone, Jerry Singleton, became the first African American varsity scholarship athlete at MTSU.
Others followed as their quietly competitive coach, who describes himself as “kind of defiant,” made more phone calls. When those athletes arrived on campus, so did their girlfriends, sisters, brothers, and friends.
“I never thought much about it because I didn’t do it on purpose, but it changed the complexion because it allowed minorities to have acceptance” on campus, Hayes says. “It has consequences you don’t think about.”
Hayes’ reputation for competitiveness (he throws away second-place trophies) and fairness attracted other black athletes to MTSU, says Tommy Haynes, an All American in the long and triple jumps.
“I turned down a scholarship [offered by another school] so I could go to MTSU and train with Coach Hayes. That’s how much respect I had for him,” Haynes says.
Two years after graduating in 1974 and beginning his military career, Haynes briefly returned to Murfreesboro to train with Hayes for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. He never felt like he was bumping against a color barrier on campus.
African American athletes felt welcome in Murfreesboro, but trips to events deeper into the post–Jim Crow South revealed a different reality. Haynes, who retired as a major after a distinguished career in the U.S. Army and is a member of the Blue Raider Hall of Fame, recalls being denied service in restaurants because of his race. Before a road trip, the coach tried carefully to map out restaurants and motels along the route that were known not to discriminate.
Meanwhile, times were changing with the arrival of more African American students on campus. Kappa Alpha Psi, a Greek letter fraternity with predominantly African American membership, began a chapter at MTSU. Hayes, who was the fraternity’s first advisor, is still approached by confused pledges who have to memorize the original members’ names.
They wonder whether this white coach really is one of the chapter’s founders.
As time passed, a hound dog named Ole Blue replaced Nathan Bedford Forrest as the University’s mascot. And one day then-president Sam Ingram walked out of his office and took down the plaque honoring Forrest.
“If you didn’t live through those times, I don’t know how much you’d appreciate it,” Hayes says of today’s diverse campus.
But taking diversity for granted may be the greatest victory of all, Hayes adds.
“Their parents and grandparents went through that so today’s kids wouldn’t have to. That bothers me because I saw it and I think these kids should appreciate it,” says Hayes. “But they’re not supposed to appreciate it.”
What is appreciated at MTSU is Hayes’s seminal role in making MTSU the diverse environment it is today.
[Editor’s Note: Hayes also deserves much of the credit for the increased presence of international students at MTSU. Under his guidance, international athletes began arriving from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and other places in the 1970s. Joe O’Laughlin, a middle-distance runner from Ireland, says being recruited by Hayes in 1978 opened up opportunities that he never would have had. “It changed my life totally, being on a team with members from all walks of life,” he says, adding that the experience positively shaped his views of other races and nationalities.]
Colby Jubenville does his part to make the Golden Rule an MVP on the courts and playing fields of the Sun Belt Conference
by Tom Tozer
When Brian Shulman, former all-SEC punter for Auburn University in the 1980s and successful entrepreneur, developed Learning Through Sports 12 years ago, he wanted to help youngsters make the connection between the Golden Rule and competitive sports. The results of his Internet programs for K–12 athletics have been remarkably successful.
“In Alabama at the high school level, we have seen a 78 percent reduction in ejections,” Shulman says, as a result of efforts in promoting sportsmanship and fair play. “In Mississippi, we have seen a 68 percent reduction.”
Enter Dr. Colby Jubenville, professor in the department of Health and Human Performance and director of the Center for Sport Policy and Research at MTSU. Jubenville, himself a former college athlete, met Shulman in 2007.
“I told Brian I thought his platforms were good, but I could make them better,” Jubenville says. Focusing on the coach-athlete relationship, Jubenville created Real Sportsmanship, an online program platform especially for the collegiate level.
Real Sportsmanship asks questions and administers a pretest, then follows up with more questions and a post-test. The issues discussed include the realities that both student-athletes and coaches face, which include drinking, partying, sexual activity, cheating, and gambling. Participants are asked to reflect on their experiences and decisions as they relate to those issues. Jubenville says participants should better understand how to handle new situations and assume leadership roles on their teams and in life.
Shulman and Jubenville were excited when the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) called and wanted to implement the platform for a five-year period, starting in 2010.
“Not only the commissioner but also the presidents and athletic directors from all the institutions got on board,” Shulman says. “They said this was something they had to try to get a handle on.”
The Sun Belt Conference has concluded its first year of utilizing the Real Sportsmanship program.
Findings released from the Center for Sport Policy and Research at MTSU are based on data collected from 478 SBC coaches and 3,476 SBC athletes. The results indicate that the platform “significantly impacted several perceptional and behavioral aspects of coaches and student-athletes regarding sportsmanship.”
Wright Waters, Sun Belt commissioner, agrees.
“We have seen a decline in the number of incidents of bad behavior, particularly on the part of the student-athletes,” Waters says.
Such results are drawing greater attention from other funding sources interested in backing Jubenville’s research. At press time, the John Templeton Foundation was showing significant interest in funding Jubenville’s effort to take his research to all NAIA schools in a program called Champions of Character, an interactive, reality-based assessment of the impact of five core values—integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership—on student-athletes and coaches.
Jubenville notes that his research has uncovered an important sportsmanship paradox—as the skill level increases, the ability to understand and implement sportsmanship decreases. It is a paradox that “each athlete is exposed to as he or she engages the learning platform,” Jubenville says.
Fortunately, the Real Sportsmanship program provides a means by which coaches and athletes can bridge this divide between skill and behavior before it grows too wide.
Unscrupulous sports agents can cause great damage to a university’s athletics program, but if you ask Bruce Pearl or Jim Tressell, they’d probably tell you some wounds are self-inflicted.
That’s why MTSU created “Compliance Corner” on its website to help boosters avoid NCAA rules violations that could result in sanctions against a student-athlete or the University. There could even be serious consequences for the offending booster, no matter how innocent the mistake might seem.
“If you do things you aren’t supposed to do, you are only hurting the school and may be ‘disassociated.’ You wouldn’t be allowed to go to games,” says Assistant Athletic Director Daryl Simpson.
According to faculty athletics advisor Terry Whiteside, the NCAA’s rules are strict.
“We have a saying that if something is just good old-fashioned Southern hospitality, it’s probably an NCAA rules violation,” he says half-jokingly.
Fortunately, boosters don’t have to guess at what’s permitted and what’s out of bounds. The dos and don’ts are spelled out at www.goblueraiders.com.
Examples include that MTSU student-athletes may not receive a special discount, payment arrangement or credit on a purchase (e.g., airline ticket, clothing) or a service (e.g., laundry, dry cleaning) from an MTSU employee or an MTSU booster.
It is also not permissible to allow MTSU student-athletes to use a telephone or credit card for personal reasons without charge or at a reduced cost.
Boosters at MTSU have not caused any difficulties with the NCAA, but at other schools there have been instances of “boosters run amok,” Simpson says. “A lot of things don’t seem like a big deal, but the rules are in place because someone did something.”
Be a fan. Follow the rules. MTSU